Confessions of a Looter: Path of Exile First Look
I have a problem: I loot. Actually, kleptomania would be a better way to describe it. It started innocently enough – collecting every music note in Banjo-Kazooie was my first taste. Then it got worse. I started opening every box in Skyrim, killed every enemy in Borderlands, just to get items I didn’t want, for gold I didn’t need. I tried to stop; it was getting expensive. Then someone came along and offered me something that had everything I ever wanted.
You’ve heard the phrase, “the first taste is free”? Well, Grinding Gear Games just want to make looters like me suffer, and offer the whole shebang for nothing at all. Path of Exile is a free-to-play ARPG that makes everything you collect and sell worthwhile, and for someone like me, it’s insidious. But, it would be best to start from the beginning so you can fully understand my plight.
Players begin the game by selecting an Exile, someone who has been sent off to the land of Wraeclast for one crime or another. The six available characters are split among three different statistic focuses. The Ranger is purely dexterity focused, the Witch is purely Intelligence focused and the Marauder likes his strength. The other three classes (Duelist, Templar, and Shadow) are hybrids, focusing on two stats rather than just one.
Classes start with different stats, weapons and appearances. Yet, these differences are miniscule compared to Path of Exile’s skill tree. The tree in question allows you to select one node per level, and travel along branching paths to empower your character however you like – and I do mean however you like. The tree has 1350 nodes, and each class starts at different points on the board. I’m stalling though. I haven’t started talking about items, what many would argue to be the entire point of an ARPG. To put it bluntly, everything in this game is an item, and the looter in me just about died when it learned this.
Let’s start with the primary item traded for in these games: Gold. But there isn’t any. Instead, you collect currency items that, in addition to being tradable for other weapons and armour, are also used to upgrade those pieces. For example, an Orb of Transmutation can be traded with shopkeepers for low-level magic items, or it can be used to upgrade a normal item you already possess into a magic item with randomly generated stats. If you don’t like those stats, another item called an Orb of Alteration can change those stats into something else.
Skills are also collectable in this game. Along with the three stats a character can focus on, there are three differently coloured Gems which impart extra skills to your character if placed into weapons or armour with corresponding socket colours. Red Gems are used for strength-based abilities, green for dexterity, and blue for intelligence-based magic spells. However, these skills can also be further changed with support Gems, which also have corresponding colours. These Gems alter how skills work. For example, a Witch’s first ability is a traditional Fireball. There are support Gems which can change the spell to chain among targets, increase the area of effect damage, knock back enemies, split the ball into multiple projectiles, and more.
I’m getting the shakes just thinking about it, and we’re still not finished, because there are also Maps (note the capital letter, because Maps can be items too)! End-game areas – the places with the shiniest treasure – have collectable items with random properties. These areas can have tougher monsters which are immune to fire magic, so your Witch with a fancy fireball spell will be completely useless, or monsters which are weak to fire but are faster, so they are harder to hit. This is all wrapped in a very pretty package that looks like Diablo II did, only at a higher resolution. There are no cartoony characters or happy places in Wraeclast. Path of Exile is dark fantasy to its core. Dungeons are dark, enemies are mean, and everything has a hopeless feel to it. NPCs all have a few lines of quality voice acting, and they all speak about the helplessness of your situation, because like you, they’ve been sent to die in this dark world as Exiles.
The greatest fault this game has is that it is not a soft drug. This is an ARPG for hardcore users. The skill tree allows maybe one or two do-overs when selecting skill nodes, but that’s about it. The amount of customization is breathtaking, but you play for keeps. Any mistakes in a build will most likely mean a new character will have to be rolled. While you can plan your path on Grinding Gear Games’ website, new comers to this genre may be overwhelmed.
This powerful drug, however, comes at no cost. Path of Exile isn’t just free-to-play – it’s pretty much free. There are micro-transactions to support Grinding Gear Games, but there is no paying for power here. If you don’t feel the 24 character slots initially offered is enough, you can buy more. If you’re feeling lonely as you explore randomly generated levels, you can buy a pet to follow you around – just don’t expect it to help you fight. These purchases are all cosmetic in design, and won’t help you collect more items one iota.
So yes, I have a problem. I loot. Delving into dark dungeons for the sparkle of rare items has grabbed me once again. Path of Exile is a game for those who are hard users, but the barrier to entry couldn’t be smaller. Not only is the first taste free, but the whole thing is. I admit, I’m not looking for help with my problem. I’m pushing Grinding Gear Games’ product.
Path of Exile is in open beta now for the PC.
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